The Miami Herald
Posted on Wed, Sep. 29, 2004
Bush is mum on Haiti's suffering
Hasn't it always made you swell with pride to see generous Americans handing food, water and encouragement to grateful victims of natural disasters the world over?
Of course it has. We like to think of our nation as selfless and noble. We may be jealous of our tax dollars and critical of government spending on anything that doesn't explode, but only the most callous of us would argue for letting desperate neighbors starve.
Speaking of callous, have you heard President Bush's public pledge to ease the incalculable agony of the Haitian people in the wake of Hurricane Jeanne?
No? Well, there's a good reason. There hasn't been one.
Why hasn't America's compassionate-conservative-in-chief spoken out about our obligation to help our neighb
ors? Hasn't he been moved by the same photographs you've seen of wretched, dazed Haitian survivors waiting for a meal and a drink of clean water a week after Jeanne wiped out their homes?
Some 1,500 Haitians are confirmed dead, with at least 900 missing,, in the floods and mudslides that inundated parts of the country. With survivors unable to obtain food, clean water and shelter, the risk of diseases including cholera and diarrhea is growing.
Ironically, United Nations officials say the immediate problem isn't a lack of supplies of food and water -- it's getting past blocked roads, and the looters and gangs attacking convoys, to deliver it.
''We have food supplies in country to meet the need,'' Brian Grogan, a spokesman for the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told me Tuesday. ``The problem has been where to distribute safely.''
I always thought the best thing about being president would be the power to reach over, pick up the phone a
nd say, ''Do something about this. Now.'' No entity on earth can move massive stores of supplies faster and more efficiently than the U.S. military -- and it has the added advantage of being able to enforce order if necessary.
Of course, much of our military is busy wasting time, resources and lives in Iraq. Bush's claim that his invasion of Iraq was motivated in part by concern for the Iraqi people sure rings terribly hollow if he can look at scenes from Haiti and have nothing to say about it.
Bush could claim to be preoccupied with rebuilding efforts here in Florida, pummeled by four powerful hurricanes in just six weeks. He has asked Congress for more than $12 billion in disaster-relief assistance for affected areas.
But Florida's own senator, Bob Graham, found the time and conscience to issue, with four other senators, an appeal to the president Tuesday: "While the damage caused within the United States was great, the devastation the storms caused in Haiti is a humanitarian disa
ster that calls for our immediate assistance and leadership.''
Shortly after receiving the letter, Graham spokesman Paul Anderson told me, the administration added $50 million for Caribbean nations, including Haiti, to its emergency funding request. For the record, that's about what the U.S. government spends every eight hours in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the U.N. is struggling to do what it can in Haiti with about 3,000 overwhelmed peacekeepers from Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. That's right -- the very U.N. Bush and his conservative friends so dearly love to bash, is all that stands between Haitians and abject calamity. It is responding. Bush is not.
''Our impression is they've left it to the U.N.,'' Anderson said. "There hasn't been any visible public response from the administration, even as we've all seen the horror unfolding on our television screens.''
It should be noted that United States isn't entirely unrepresented in Haiti; three planeloads of relief supplies have
been sent to Haiti by the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development since the hurricane, a USAID spokesman said.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry hasn't had much to say on the subject, either. Starving Haitians evidently isn't an election-year priority.
Perhaps the old persona of magnanimous, humanitarian, big-hearted America is dead. It might have died in the collapse of the World Trade Center; maybe it succumbed to our new predilection for justifying unnecessary wars and changing regimes we don't like. Either way, it seems that once again, the Haitian people are paying for neglect they don't deserve.
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